I don't take many days off.
Actually, I'm struggling to think of the last time I took off from work in the past few years, save a sick day this winter. I take pride in the fact that I work hard. But, that's not to say there aren't days, weeks even, when I'm worn down and want nothing more than to sleep in. I don't sit still well though, and I'm not one to take a day just for the sake of staying home.
But, with that said, I took Friday off because I wanted to check out the Black Eyed Susan Stakes Day at Pimlico — the Preakness weekend precursor equivalent to the Kentucky Oaks.
I'd heard about it for years, the more sublime and certainly more refined, err, tamed of the two-days of fancified, fanfare-filled, local thoroughbred racing.
Horse racing was once said to be the so-called "sport of kings," enjoyed and afforded only by members of the aristocracy. Perhaps as an ode to its royal roots, horse racing in the US is highlighted by the sport's Triple Crown — with Pimlico and the Preakness being the second jewel each year.
Sadly, if Churchill Downs and Saratoga pay proper homage to the sports palatial beginnings, Pimlico only does so in the much the same manner as Medieval Times may do. Though, for its part, Pimlico's surroundings probably do the best job of the three of replicating the poverty-soaked fiefdoms that surrounded the palaces of the past.
Not something to aspire to do, nor meant as a compliment. Walk or drive a few furlongs and/or the distance of the race itself and you'll see real life scenes from "The Wire," complete with hand signals being flashed to flag down passers by who may want to score something a little stronger than the champagne, cocktails, and/or America (the beer formerly known as Budweiser) being consumed along the rails of the Pimlico course.
I was looking forward to dressing up a bit, aka, having reason and opportunity to pair some version of pastels or plaids, potentially even adding in a bow tie.
I was looking forward to some good old-fashioned people watching — taking in the spectacle of the seemingly-costumed, bougie and straight from the boutique-d debutantes and their beaus.
I was looking forward to putting down a few dollars on the ponies. Literally, just a few dollars.
I was looking forward to what I truly believe to be the true beauty of the physical aesthetic of the thoroughbreds.
And, for the most part, the day was a success of sorts.
The people watching lived up to my hopes and expectations — women in loud prints, and men in an over-abundance of far too matching and/or accessorized outfits, including pastels, pinstripes, and Panama hats.
Even the betting went well. We won a few dollars on the first race we bet (the fifth of the day), then hit on a trifecta two races later – the winnings from which pretty much paid for the day, including a bit of an over-indulgence on dinner downtown after our day at the races (which was why we witnessed the scene along Park Heights Avenue between Pimlico and the Harbor).
And the horses, they were beautiful. Granted, given the crowds and the pace of the day, I didn't get to pause and appreciate them as much as on an otherwise crowdless day at e.g. Gulfstream. But, to see them full-stride, coming down the stretch — they were something to behold, particularly the bespotted grey horses and those with a super-shine to their coats.
And, for those of you with a little more flexibility in your schedules, I recommend spending a day at the races in the next month or so.
Food and beverage pricing isn't quite like that of the throw-back costs of pimento cheese sandwiches and sweet tea offered at Augusta during the Masters, but it's close (at least on non-Preakness weekends).
The horses really are beautiful to watch, whether when they're walking around the paddock or up the straightaway pre-race, or (particularly) when at an all-out sprint coming down the stretch at the end of the race.
The silver lining to the decline of horse racing as a spectator sport, particularly here in Maryland, is the ability to get up close and personal — to have practically unfettered run of the place on any given day (save that of Preakness).
And, though Pimlico pales in comparison to the beauty and grandeur of Churchill Downs and Saratoga, and doesn't have the advantage of the natural beauty that comes from or with the parks like Gulf Stream or Santa Anita with their natural backdrops, the employees were super friendly, opening every door and greeting everyone with a smile and a kind word (again, maybe this was a byproduct of it being Preakness weekend, but it was definitely a nice touch that did not go unnoticed).
And, though the fun of a day at the races isn't necessarily about the betting — well, and at the same time, it wouldn't be complete without placing a few wagers. But, you can place $2 bets, which really just make it more about having a little fun than about betting with the sort of negative connotations and financial pitfalls associated with, oh, say heading to a casino.
All-in-all, spending a day (off) at the races was a lot of fun. I recommend you give it a try sometime soon. (Pimlico runs races on Saturdays and Sundays too, so you don't even have to take the day off.)
If you want, you can use it as an excuse to get a bit dressed up – maybe even putting on your fancy or proper hat too.